Alain Kremski - stirring music's synchronicitous soup

That is Alain Kremski in the photo above. Some time ago I decided not to note everyone of the all too frequent deaths among our great musicians. Posting, as others do, hastily contrived and thinly disguised tributes scraped from Wikipedia and larded with a YouTube clip hardly does justice to great departed talents. Instead I decided to write tributes only to musicians who have meant something to me personally. Which is why today I am writing about Alain Kremski who has died at the age of 78.

I first encountered Alain Kremski's music at a pro-Tibet rally in France many years ago, and, as a result, he has featured several times On An Overgrown Path. His teachers at the Paris Conservatoire included Nadia Boulanger, Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen, and early in his career he received an award from the American William and Noma Copley Foundation. At the age of 22 Alain Kremski won the prestigious Prix de Rome for music composition using the pseudonym Alain Petitgard: other recipients of the prize include Berlioz, Debussy and Henri Dutilleux. In the final year of his stay in Italy he was influenced by the controversial Polish-French artist Balthus.

Alain Kremsk was an acclaimed pianist. He transcribed and recorded the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony - video via this link - and made ten albums of the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann piano works. He worked in the the theatre and film studio with Jeanne Moreau, Michael Lonsdale, and arranged the music for Peter Brook's film of G.I. Gurdjieff's Meetings with Remarkable Men.

Alain Kremski's path as a composer led him to writing new music for traditional Eastern instruments and Olivier Messian described his compositions as creating "an absolutely new sound world". In Exils (Exiles), which is dedicated to the Dalai Lama, he scored Tibetan singing bowls as equal partners with a piano to produce a soundworld of strange intervals and harmonies. Although Exils does not imitate ritual music, it subordinates Western priorities of melody and rhythm to pure sound-values. In line with Balthus' philosophy of no imposed judgement, it is better to listen to Alain Kremski's music than analyse it. But an exploration of the dedications of the work's five movements provides a valuable perspective on a brilliant but little-known.

1. 'Prière': Tibetan temple in the mountains - dedicated to Balthus. An iconoclastic artist who believed paintings should be seen and not analysed, Balthus refused to provide any biographical information. When asked for a biography for a Tate retrospective in 1968 he famously replied by telegram: "No biographical details. Begin: Balthus is a painter of whom nothing is known. Now let us look at the pictures. Regards. B."

2. 'Souvenir': Lullaby for a Tibetan child - dedicated to Olivier Messiaen. Alain Kremski studied with Messiaen and the sleeve for Exils, seen below, carries the following quote from his teacher, "Your music, Alain, has transported me to other places, to the external and internal worlds which you evoke so well".

3. 'Exils': Meditation on space, time and memory - dedicated to Kalou Rinpoche. A Buddhist monk and teacher, Kalou Rinpoche was one of the first Tibetan masters to teach in the West and founded the Kagyu Rintchen Tcheu Ling temple in Montpelier, France, which featured in my photo essay Towards a Pure Land.

4. 'Aube': Christ alone on the Mount of Olives - dedicated to Lama Guendune Rimpoche. A Tibetan meditation master, Lama Guendune Rinpoche spent more than thirty years in solitary retreat in Tibet and India.

5. 'Contemplation': Secret prayer on the holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ - dedicated to Jeanne and Josée Salzmann. The teachings of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff continued after his death under the guidance of Jeanne Salzmann. The screenplay for Peter Brook's film of Gurdjieff's Meetings with Remarkable Men, which Alain Kremski arranged the music for, was written by the director and Jeanne Salzmann. Kremski also recorded ten volumes of the Hartmann/Gurdjieff compositions.

In a French sleeve note for his Résonance/Mouvements album Alain Kremski developed a theme that will be very familiar to my regular readers. He categorised Western culture as dualist and limited by the binary notation of 0 and 1, whereas Eastern culture recognises ternary states. He uses Eastern percussion instruments as an example and describes how the binary Western mindset can only accept the two conditions of a gong sounding and silence. By contrast the Eastern mind accepts a third condition between sounding and silence during which the gong has ceased sounding but the resonance can still be felt within the listener. Or in other words the gong and the listener are both floating in a vast synchronicitous soup. Kremski describes this third condition as approaching the ineffable.

Alain Kremski did not seek with his music to evoke the sacred music of the Far East and its ritualistic codes, but instead he developed a unique contemporary music which inhabited the multi-dimensional space where East and West coincide. He modestly considered his compositions as a homage to Tibetan civilisation and the its precious spirituality which Western culture must preserve at all costs.

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Joseph Rowe said…
Thank you for this sympathetic and perceptive article about Alain Kremski, who was a long-time, close friend of mine, as well as a musical collaborator. I just want to point out a small error: his real name was Alain Petitgirard. In fact, Kremski (his mother's maiden name) was a pseudonym he adopted, so as not to be confused with his illustrious father (as well as other Petitgirards, who form a renowned musical family in France).
Also, his use of Tibetan (and Burmese, and Japanese) bowls and gongs had no resemblance to traditional uses of them, nor did it resemble most other Western musicians' use of these instruments ... Alain valued them as marvelous sustained-percussion instruments, often complementing the piano, and very rarely played them as singing bowls, as almost all other musicians tend to do. He also exercised a rigorous and sensitive control over the sustain and co-resonance of the bowls, which no other Western or Eastern players have ever done, to my knowledge.
His passing was an inexpressible loss to us, and to all contemporary music which strives to retain a sense of ancient roots. Thank you again for your homage.
Thanks for ,once again, opening a new vista musically for me. Bob, you are the school of continuing education for this man. I am grateful to have found you and that you continue to publish. And that you are off facebook as well...
Unknown said…
I agree with you that Alain developed a new music in the multi-dimension space where East and West collide or meet. It was not an easy path, as he was not understood by contemporaries who had known him first as a brilliant pianist and French composer. As such he was admired even by his teacher, Olivier Messiaen. When he began to include his Tibetan bowls, placed on the closed lid of a Steinway D as resonators, the effect was quite miraculous. But he also drew mockery from some of his followers and friends, with a few notable exceptions. In any case, this was the beginning of a remarkable search into the world of sound and music. I admired him greatly and shall miss his meditative vision.
Ramon Garcia said…
Hello, is there any official (or unofficial) biography about Alain Kremski? I really love his work and his piano playing and I would like to know more about him. Unfortunately, I cannot find any in-depth information about his life. I would truly appreciate any recommendations/suggestions. Thank you.
Pliable said…
Ramon, as far as I know there is no English biography of Alain Kremski, and a search on Amazon France also draws a blank.

I continue to listen to his music, and he must not be forgotten. So leave it with me: I will try to upload a new post including your request for biographical information.

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